Sitting in the hammock, listening to music with the dog and getting nostalgic because of conversations earlier in the night. There are a handful of you–a big handful, I’m lucky– who have been with me most or all of my life, through the best and hardest of times. Thank you, all of you (many of whom will never read this blog) for helping make me the person I am today. I wouldn’t have known what to do without you.
1. There is a family of skunks living in my yard. I kinda knew that already though– there always has been in this yard.
2. Skunks like chicken food. They don’t care if it’s dark yet, they want the CHICKEN FOOD!!!
3. Baby skunks are cute but stupid, apparently deaf, and easily alarmed (in a potentially stinky way).
4. The clapping thing works– on adult skunks. Mama ran away like a bat out of hell after one clap. The babies? Not so much. They either flip around and raise their tails at you, or they don’t react at all & just keep on eating chicken food.
5. Stupid us, for feeding our chickens by the front porch, where we can watch them and laugh at how weird and stupid and funny they are. All the while, the skunks are laughing at us.
6. I think it’s official. The skunk phobia is gone. I’m not stupid enough to stop being wary, but I’m not gonna lock myself in someone’s car for twenty minutes because I’m too afraid of what’s between me and the door. Yes, I did that once. I also almost got run over by a huge buck deer because I was convinced the rustling in the bushes was a mammoth skunk that was gonna practically kill me and I froze stiff in my tracks. That deer almost put my eye out. Was I afraid of deer after that?? No.
7. I much prefer the wild chickens, iguanas, lizards, and even the stray dogs of my other islands to skunks, harmless though they may be. They’re obnoxious. Craig Kingsbury (the guy who brought them here and let them loose) was an asshole. He pulled the perfect senior prank on his own island.
You wanna know how to get through the hard times? Take a minute or two– or an hour or two, however long it takes– and daydream about what it’s going to be like when you reach your goals, when you don’t feel shitty anymore, when your life is what you want it to be. Give yourself something to look forward to, and it’ll be easy to get the motivation to keep going forward, get your shit together and move on.
It works for me, anyway.
Dream big. Believe that you can achieve that dream. Prioritize your life around getting there, and you will. And when you get there, come up with a new dream. Inspiration is everything.
Happiness is a collection of tiny, perfect moments. The key to finding it is slowing down enough that you can recognize and appreciate them instead of missing them altogether.
This morning I woke up around six a.m. to use the bathroom and when I opened the fridge to grab a drink of juice (which I expected to be warm), I was pleasantly surprised to see the light on in the fridge, indicating that power had been restored to Vieques. In all honesty, I had no expectation that we’d have power back so soon, as I had no confirmation of what the source of the outage was. Rumor had it last night that there was no power on parts of the main island, that perhaps the outage had to do with the solar storm and resulting earthquakes– in my mind, we could have been without power for days. I was prepared for it. At least we still had running water, a house, and a gate around that house to protect us.
Turns out it was simply corroded wires, and the power was restored by morning, which, given my expectations, was a treat.
If there is one thing that I love about Vieques more than anything else, it’s that it makes me appreciate the small things in life. The simple necessities. It makes me grateful for the things that we take so much for granted at home. Running water. Locking doors. Privacy. Electricity. After camping for ten days, those things seem like a luxury, and every day I’m grateful for them.
And without all of the trappings of home –TV, internet, movie theaters, scads and scads of retail outlets vying for every last dime in your wallet– I find I appreciate the natural world around me more here than I do at home. Not that I don’t appreciate nature at home, but without anything else to do, there is really no choice here most days but to go to the beach, take pictures, go for a hike, or kayak, or paddleboard, or hop aboard a friend’s boat. On Vieques, there’s plenty of time to do all those things we keep telling ourselves we don’t have time for at home. The truth is, we have time for them all at home, but we fill up that time with unnecessary activities, most of which involve earning or spending money. It’s refreshing not to have the option of filling up my schedule with bullshit. I’ve been to the beach every day this week, and I DO have a job. My rent is $200 a month, and although the place is not a palace, it’s enough. It’s all I really need.
The other huge benefit to living without all the unnecessary extras we call “normal” at home is that I have plenty of time to think, to reflect, to write, to read, and to daydream. I think we Americans have trained ourselves to think these are the unnecessary extras, when the truth is quite the opposite. If we spend all of our time working in order to pay for all the things that we really don’t NEED, we don’t have time to live. To be. To relax. To think. To be happy, and REALIZE that we are happy. Our priorities are all messed up.
In the perpetual quest for material wealth that is contemporary American society, we have lost sight of what is really important: the quest for happiness. We all know, on a surface level, that money can’t buy happiness. But then why do we keep trying to fill whatever empty place exists in us with material things? Why do we get ourselves into crippling debt buying toys and clothes and fancy home furnishings and zippy cars? Wouldn’t being debt-free be more satisfying than having all those things at such a steep price? Because the price is not just the debt, and the stress of the debt, but the TIME spent trying to pay off the debts; time that we should be spending with our friends and loved ones, enjoying nature, making art, cooking and eating, listening to music, relaxing, and doing the things that will ACTUALLY make us happy.
Time is the most valuable resource we have, and we waste far too much of it. We waste it on working to pay for things we don’t actually need. We waste it on anger, stress, resentment and guilt. We waste it on pointless activities like video games, television and facebook. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not simply proselytizing–I’m just as guilty as anyone else. But I’m trying to shift the balance of how I spend my time and money, because as I’ve learned here on Vieques, I’m a hell of a lot happier when I’ve got less money, less trappings and all the time I want to sit in the hammock and read my book. Or to sit here, at half past noon on a Wednesday, and write to you.
There has been no electricity on Vieques since about 5:30 pm (Tues). A bit of research leads me to believe it’s got something to do with solar flares and an earthquake in the DR, followed by a tremor in western Puerto Rico. However, friends in San Juan say they have power. Not really sure what’s going on. The lights flickered on for a second around 7, but nothing since.
With no power, the stars above Esperanza are epic. Orion’s belt is kit up like a Christmas tree. The darkness is complete, and stunning. The only sounds are tree frogs, distant dogs and the hum of several generators.
We are camping again, this time in a cement tent with running water and beds. I’m ok with it.
I love having time to get sucked into an eight-hundred page book for pure pleasure. I love having the freedom to spend my morning doing things I enjoy, and not things that are required. I love that I have submerged myself in the Caribbean sea every day this week. I love that the climbing tree in my back yard is a mango tree, though it won’t give us mangoes until April. I love that when I do have to work, I work with friends and food, and that when I leave the building every evening, the only part of the job I take with me is the money. I love the dramatic tropical wind that occasionally slams the metal shutters on my windows closed. I love the simplicity of washing my clothes in the sink and hanging them in the sun to dry. I love the tree frogs and coquis, who provide a peaceful soundtrack to every night’s sleep– and I love that after a week I stopped hearing the roosters and dogs and falling-apart cars that otherwise cut up the night. I love the fact that everything seems possible here, if you’re willing to work hard at it. I love that New York money and arrogance have not polluted this paradise yet, and I love the stubborn hearts of the Viequenses who will fight against them when they try.
I love this island, with all its quirks and hiccups. I love these people, misfits all of them. I love my life.
The other night, while I was drunk and very upset, a friend told me that perhaps if the Vineyard is a place I continually feel the need to run away from that it’s not the place I’m supposed to be. And I told him, the truth is I want to run away from everywhere. No place feels like home. I want to run away because I want something internal to be different, but I know that physical movement is not the key to making anything feel better.
Still, the conversation got me thinking. I have been planning for months to stay here on the island year round and return to Emerson in January as a commuter student (two days of classes, stay on a friend’s couch). I have spent the winter and the spring healing in the presence of some of my closest friends–friends who are so important to me that they have taken the place of the family I no longer have.
I came home because I needed to survive the most devastating loss of my life, and it was the only way I knew how. But now I’ve come back to the old familiar restlessness, the urge to get away that’s so strong and so constant that each time I return from a little vacation I begin counting the days until the next time I can leave.
The truth is, when I think about it, commuting is a ridiculous idea. And when I was in Boston, the reason I was miserable was because I was overloaded, overwhelmed and terribly worried. And then I was gutted and broken, and not even the close friends I’d made over the several years I’d been there could console me. That was a job that only the lifers could manage. I knew that around my lifelong friends from the island, I could be a sloppy crying mess and it wouldn’t make a difference. I knew that I’d feel like being around them even when I didn’t feel like being around myself–and I was right. I wouldn’t have made it through the winter without all of them. It was a quiet winter, the best it could have been under the circumstances.
But I think it might be time for the lost little girl to go back out into the world and live a louder life again. Quiet was necessary, quiet was good, but I miss the noise. I miss the insomniac city, where I wasn’t the only one awake at 3 a.m., and if I was bored I could jump on the train and in half an hour I would no longer be bored. I had the urge to run there, too–but most of the time running to Allston or Harvard or the North End–or jumping in the car with Alana and going to Nantasket–turned out to be a far enough jaunt to make it subside.
So what now? The quiet island, with my nearest and dearest friends and the possibility of re-establishing my life where it first begun, or the city, a stepping stone to wherever it is that I’m really supposed to end up? Perhaps the answer is simple: summer on Martha’s Vineyard, where I can smell the salt air and go swimming whenever I want, and in the winter the only place I’ve known where winter just may be the best season of the year.
If I stayed here until the end of October, I could finish out the season in a seasonal restaurant, and spend some less stressful time with my island friends, and I’d have enough time to readjust to the city and find a job before returning to school.
It makes sense. Now I just have to figure out if it’s what I want. Once again, it comes down to the question that I’ve never been able to confidently answer: Where do I want to be? It has never been a problem of possibility–I can make a life and get a job and make friends almost anywhere–but always one of desire. Fickle, fickle desire.
Tonight, it was proven to me why I want to move back to Martha’s Vineyard, at least for a while. For the past week or so, two of my good friends have been organizing a benefit concert and dinner to raise money to help me pay for my father’s services and expenses. It’s something my friends did on their own, from finding bands to play for free, to booking the space, to organizing people to bring food and serve it. The newspapers offered free ads, a local cornware merchant donated plates and cups and plasticware, the radio station advertised, a bunch of people stayed afterward to clean… the outpouring of generosity was astounding.
More people came to the show than I could ever have expected, and the benefit raised over 1900 dollars. Because I don’t feel right about taking the money outright, I’m going to donate a matching amount back to the community, after his estate is settled, in the form of a Scholarship Fund in my dad’s name for high school students who want to pursue metal working.
I’m completely overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of community–this wouldn’t happen anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I don’t really know what to say, except Thanks, Martha’s Vineyard–Thank you for caring, and for remembering my Dad so fondly. Even if I only end up staying a month or two and leaving in the spring, I’ll know what it was that brought me back, and will continue to bring me back throughout my life. The Vineyard, as twisted and backwards as it can be at times, has a firm grasp on what it means to be a community. This island helps its own, without asking why, and every one of its children is raised by a lot more than a village. Even when you leave for years, it will remember you, and it will be there when you need it to be. Thanks again, islanders. I won’t forget to give back.
For the past several years, I have wanted to move back to the West Coast. I kept telling myself, and other people, that the reason I did not was because my father was here, and he didn’t want me to be so far away. This reasoning became ever stronger when he became sick last March. I will not leave my Dad, I said. But who knows how long that will keep me here?
With the terribly premature passing of my Dad last week (I thought we had years left, maybe decades–they said they’d get him a liver, and they lied), I inherited a bunch of stuff. I am now the proud owner of a house in the middle of a town I’ll never have a desire to live in (and my father knew this–he wanted me to use it as collateral to buy my own home, which I will do). I also own a grey minivan that I’ll probably never use as my own because it’s so old and run down that it only makes sense for a gearhead like my dad to own. I’ve got a half-built hot rod, and a shop full of incredibly cool tools I don’t know how to use (but hopefully will someday), and a cherry red 1953 GMC 630 semi with a white Coke-bottle stripe that’s fully restored. And a decent chunk of change, too, the amount of which I will not specify.
And I have the freedom to go wherever I want to go, without feeling guilty about it, or missing the most important person in my life. Because the most important person in my life is gone.
And I thought about it, too. Years ago, before he got sick, I thought to myself, when he goes, I’ll be able to go wherever I want without getting lectured about being a bad daughter. If only I could bitch slap the face of my old self now. Oh, how stupid I was, and so willing to take for granted that he’d always be there. Sometimes desire can be a truly terrible thing; can make us think of things we should never think of.
Nevertheless, I have the freedom now. I can go wherever I want–New Zealand, Europe, California–and I’ve chosen to go home. Back to the place I came from. I’ve chosen instead of running away to some glorious faroff place to return to the tiny island that spat me out all those years ago.
There are some who think that I’m using my father’s death as an excuse to make a foolish and un-thought-out decision. That I’m going to drop out of school and be absorbed by the island, transformed instantaneously into a lazy, pot-smoking Island-duh, and that I’ll never leave again, never get anything accomplished.
It couldn’t be much farther from the truth.
For the first time since I left home in 1997, when I was 18, I realize what made my parents move there and raise a child in the first place. Although my father later became embittered with the forces that were acting upon our tiny island and left it, he could never say that the magic was completely gone. There is a community aspect of living in so small and isolated a place that’s hard to achieve anywhere else. And not only are the people on the island familiar and isolated, they’re smart (most of them, anyway). And they’re artistic.
I’m not going home to hide out, or to escape my demons. I’m going home in search of something I think I may only find there–solace. I’m going for the trees and the ocean, and the deep dark of the winter night sky. I’m going for friendly games of wine-infused Scrabble, and heaping pots of homemade chili. I’m going for the fresh-baked smell of pastries in coffee shops, and the knowledge that every door I walk through will reveal a face that I know. I’m going for free concerts by local musicians, and dinner parties that happen every week, and people who will band together with or without your consent and throw a benefit concert when your dad dies suddenly and you can’t afford to pay for a memorial service for him.
The things are mine, much as I wish I could trade them in for another day with my Dad. And they, too, mean freedom. Wheels to take me anywhere, if I want to go. A house to live in if I ever need a roof, or a rest. Something to show the bank when I want to buy my own home that I’m good for it. And a little money to help me along the way.
I want to believe that my father would have approved of my decision to move home. I’ve almost convinced myself that he would. What I do know for sure is that he would have believed I had the right to make my own decisions, and that if I’d taken the time to think them out, they were probably the right ones. The only time he ever told me not to move somewhere, my destination was Texas. He told me the whole 8 months that I was there that I had to pack up my duffel bags and get back on the bus and go back the way that I came–and he was right.
I’m not exercising excuses, I’m exercising freedom. And I’m using my freedom to stay nearby, and look for a quiet life instead of adventure. Dad, I hope you understand. Nobody else’s opinion even matters.
I miss you, but if I can’t have you back, I’m grateful for the freedom.